The hardwood floor market continues to thrive and prosper during a time of raw material shortages and price increases, according to the just-completed 2005 Hardwood Flooring Market Study conducted by National Floor Trends magazine in conjunction with the market research division of BNP Media.

Annual hardwood floor sales grew dramatically in 2004 averaging nearly $377,000 (compared to $208,595 in 2003) for retailers/contractors participating in the survey. (Chart 1) The average ticket is now $3,687 per wood floor sale, an increase of nearly 31 percent over last year's figure. (Chart 2)

Wider width wood products - 4 inches and more are continuing to gain popularity with consumers. These wider products now have a 20 percent share. The 3 inch width remains most popular with a 48 percent share. (Chart 3) Oak remains the top-selling species in these retailer's stores.

Machine and hand scraped wood floors are increasing in popularity with 61 percent (an increase of 14 percent from last year) of our responding panel selling these products. The most popular machine/hand scraped wood floor is reportedly from Anderson Hardwood Floors.

Exotic wood floors continue to generate high demand with 71 percent of those surveyed carrying this category. The Brazilian Cherry species is the top seller in the category. BR-111 Exotic Hardwood Flooring was the most frequently mentioned supplier. Demand is highest in the pine segment of the reclaimed wood category, followed by antique red/white oak.

When asked the one brand of hardwood flooring they would sell if they could select only one, Bruce was cited most with 15 percent; followed by Mannington, 12 percent; Kahrs, 9 percent; and Anderson, Mirage and Mohawk at 8 percent each.

Bruce (21 percent) is also our panel's top selling brand of hardwood flooring with name recognition and price as the top two reasons for the brands popularity. Mannington (13 percent) was the next best selling brand.

Scheduling and on-time delivery leads 13 other important factors for retailers/contractors when selecting a wood manufacturer/distributor partner. Seventy-five percent of our respondents pegged this as most important, followed by competitive pricing, 72 percent; complaints/service issues handled by reps, 65 percent; accessibility of rep, 64 percent and product guarantees/warranties, 50 percent. (Chart 4)

Forty-three percent of our retailer/contractor survey panel say they hear negative concerns from consumers regarding hardwood floors they have selected for their homes. These concerns are topped by scratches, dents and gapping.

According to the study, issues currently impacting the wood floor business are led by (multiple responses allowed): increasing number of Big Box channels, 56 percent; increasing competition from other flooring channels, 55 percent; eroding profit margins, 51 percent; consolidating retailers and manufacturers, 21 percent; consumer brand switching, 10 percent; and other flooring types, 8 percent.

One-third of retailers surveyed feel the recent lumber shortage and price increases have affected hardwood sales and profitability. Results of the lumber shortage have caused increases in price, shortages in product and consumers moving to different flooring types, including laminates.

About half of the respondents said that over the next two years, the hardwood floor manufacturers' biggest challenge will be alternative hard surface flooring, followed by ability to meet consumer demand, 33 percent; product innovation, 32 percent; and installation services, 22 percent.

Furthermore, imported products have had a positive influence on the wood business in regards to volume and profitability of our retailer/contractor panel. (Chart 5)

Our retailer/contractor respondents are using a combination of in-house labor and independent contractors to get the jobs completed. Thirty-one percent use in-house installers only; 47 percent use independent contractors only; and 22 percent use both in-house and independent labor. And, when providing installation services, 87 percent of our retailer/contractor participants specify all products to be used on the job.

These are just some of the findings in NFT's 2005 Hardwood Flooring Market Study. The complete study is available for $225 each or $195 for multiple copies. Lnft

Editor's Note: National Floor Trends commissioned another in our ongoing series of wood market studies to help flooring retailers/contractors enhance the success and profitability of their businesses.

The survey, which received a 22 percent response rate, was sent to a representative cross-section of 1,500 active, qualified floor covering dealers/contractors selected on an Nth name basis from the domestic circulation of NFT subscribers.

Among the topics covered are: hardwood floor covering sales generated each month; annual hardwood floor sales ($); average ticket amount per hardwood floor sale; best selling hardwood floor width; floor space devoted to hardwood floor products; residential/commercial hardwood percentages; factory finished, job-site finished percentages; solid vs. engineered sales; sales by glueless, nail-down/staple and adhesive installation; top selling hardwood species; top selling exotic; top selling machine/hand-scraped wood; top selling reclaimed wood; top selling brand of wood flooring; factors retailers consider when selecting a wood manufacturer/distributor; negative concerns from consumers about hardwood floors; issues impacting hardwood business; how lumber shortages/price increases affect volume and profitability; domestic vs. imported product quality issues; impact of imported products on wood business; employ own installers or use independent contractors; specifier of installation products used; offer wood refinishing services; expectations for 2005 residential wood sales; expectations for 2005 commercial wood sales; and challenges wood manufacturers need to overcome.